Leitrim’s players line up ahead of a Jan. 3 game against Sligo in the Connacht GAA Air Dome, Claremorris, Mayo. INPHO/JAMES CROMBIE

Leitrim walks and Moran launches

On Saturday morning, many of the Big Apple’s Leitrim supporters will be heading to Tibbetts Brook Park, Yonkers, N.Y., for the 10 a.m. finale of the “Fifty Mile Challenge.”  Last year the Leitrim Supporters Club launched this initiative, for the month of January, with a two-fold goal, firstly, to enhance general fitness of the county’s residents, and secondly, to generate badly needed finances for the Leitrim team.  
Well, the project was a resounding success as local residents were regularly seen pounding Leitrim’s highways, byways and boreens from Annaduff to Kinlough, in all sorts of weather.   This year the 50 Mile Challenge was embraced more enthusiastically, prompting comedian Seamus O’Rourke to claim that if there was a census done, you couldn’t count Leitrim people as they were nearly all out walking, jogging and running, notwithstanding that the county has the smallest population of any county. 
Naturally Leitrim people on this side of the Big Pond quickly embraced the challenge and soon the ex. Lovely Leitrim folks were hitting sidewalks, pavements and parks regularly around the Big Apple’s five boroughs, stockpiling the miles. On the coldest day of the year over a 100 hardy souls showed up to complete the last few miles of the challenge. Of course the bond between native and emigrant is strong, and as James Orr, the Bard of Ballycarry, stated,  “The savage loves his native shore.”  Sure, there’s a sizeable influx of Leitrim exiles scattered throughout the tri-state, but the biggest concentration is at the juncture of St. Barnabas parish in Woodlawn and McLean Avenue, aka, The Emerald Mile, in south Yonkers, prompting a journalist from the Irish Independent some years ago, to label the area “Little Leitrim” a comparison to “Little Italy”, a staunch Italian enclave around Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. 
At one stage the St. Barnabas football team had 12 starters with Leitrim origins as well as the backroom team being from the home county.  Basically the article chronicled the strong attachment that these exiles have to the home land and the home county. That bond is currently accentuated by the fact that Seamus and Caitriona Clarke, proprietors of JP Clarkes on McLean Avenue are the major sponsors of the Leitrim team. In many ways the popular bar and beer garden is a home away from home for many of New York’s Leitrim exiles.

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So far this year over 200 folks have signed up to complete the 50 miles and they will meet in Tibbetts Park for the grand finale of the challenge. There they will be greeted by Enda Stenson and Martin McCartin, County Board Officials and, of course, the former great Mayo footballer Andy Moran. Andy, a former Footballer of the Year, a two time All-Star, plus a host of other accolades, is the current Leitrim manager. 

Andy will be at the starting line to set the runners/walkers off and at the finish line to greet the finishers. Maybe, perhaps in a gesture of sporting ecumenism, a few Mayo folks might show up to help Leitrim’s cause. After all Leitrim have been Mayo’s greatest supporters, especially when they get outside of Connacht. Meanwhile when the walking/running is finished all head up to JP Clarke’s for refueling and refreshments, and I’m sure any lingering exertional pains or aches will be soon alleviated with a few copious potions of nature’s oldest anesthetic.

Then the second part of the program begins, namely launching of Andy Moran’s book, which is titled “Lessons Learned in Pursuit of Glory.”   This is a very compelling account of the two-time All-Star, Footballer of Year and former Mayo captain’s football journey. Moran, one of the most respected and admired footballers of his generation, details how sport influenced every facet of his life, highlighting the teachers, coaches, managers and teammates among others who inspired or influenced along the way. The title is certainly very appropriate, and the book should be required reading for any young athlete, but especially Gaelic players. It certainly makes great reading for all GAA folks, but none more so than for the band of loyal Mayo supporters who have lived through decades of agonies, ecstasies and near misses. 

Well, Saturday afternoon will be an opportunity for these folks to meet their hero, shake his hand and get their autographed copy of this highly acclaimed book by one of Mayo’s greatest. Mike Morley, chairman of New York Mayo Club along with some players and officials will be there to make a presentation to unquestionably one of the greatest in the modern era.  

Besides the book launching, there will also be another launching, that is the unveiling of the new Leitrim jersey. This is a big occasion, and naturally two All-Star models have been engaged to strut stuff on the runway, namely Martin Furlong and Andy Moran.   Martin is the former Offaly goalkeeper, whose lengthy list of accolades includes the following: four All-Irelands, three senior, one minor, four All-Stars, one Footballer of the Year, seven Leinster championships and three club titles. 

The former great shot stopper from the sixties to the eighties will model the goalkeeper’s jersey. Andy Moran will model the outfield jerseys. Andy, one of the greatest forwards of his era and current Leitrim manager, has a very impressive resume too, that includes: a Footballer of the Year, two All-Stars, two Nationals Leagues, three Sigersons, eight Connacht and two club titles. The New York Leitrim Ladies, who have become a formidable force on the Big Apple’s playing fields will also have their moments in the spotlight as Sharon Redican and Lisa Sorohan among others from the Lovely Leitrim Ladies squad will be modeling the McKeever sponsored jerseys as well as the County Board sponsored sportswear.  Joan Henchy, Chairperson of the New York GAA will also be in attendance for the occasion. It’s reported that the Big Apple’s GAA leader will make a very important announcement that should be music to the ears of Gaelic Park patrons.  Dawn Doherty and Frankie McCormick as well as DJ Don will also be providing entertainment. Incidentally Dawn and the Aisling Center’s Band won great plaudits for their performance on Ireland’s most watched television show last year, that of course would be RTE’s Late Late Christmas Toy Show. I’m sure Seamus and Caitriona, proprietors of JP Clarke’s and sponsors of the Leitrim team will ensure that all are well looked after for the evening, and the craic should be mighty. Hope to see you, in either Tibbetts Brook Park or J. P. Clarke’s, or better still in both.         

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